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How to Run an Open Data Bootcamp in Your City

If your city looking to get seriously coordinated, in shape, and marching in lockstep when releasing data to the public, you should consider heading to bootcamp — open data bootcamp. I recently helped facilitate an open data bootcamp in Lincoln, Nebraska, and can tell you the event was immediately impactful and easy to put together if you follow the tips below.



Lincoln, like many cities across the country, is working hard to find ways to meet the needs of residents through data. The city recently launched an open data program as part of its What Works Cities engagement, and worked to build a governance committee that included members of the public to provide strategic input on what data should be released. With the support of GovEx, Lincoln made a lot of progress designing and building frameworks to launch open data, however in order to ensure that open data would be able to impact both internal and external stakeholders, we determined that we needed to get the governance committee and staff on the same page regarding open data.

In Lincoln, we gathered about 30 people, including department directors, data analysts, university professors, and local business leaders, to show them the ropes of open data and build a shared understanding of what it means for the City. We spent the day identifying users of open data, planning to meet the requirements of the open data resolution, and discussing the finer points of what open data is (and isn’t).

It was a great chance to learn about open data and plan to put it into action. The city is already running with the results of the bootcamp by designating governance subcommittees focused on public engagement, identifying and prioritizing data for release, and safeguarding private information, all of which were discussed during the bootcamp.

Anyone can run an open data bootcamp for their city. Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind, as you do:

  1. Identify internal and external stakeholders – Identifying and inviting a diverse group of interested stakeholders should be the first step in planning your bootcamp. Without a clear audience, it’s very difficult to plan a workshop that will provide value. In Lincoln, we decided to keep our audience limited to city staff and the open data governance committee. This brought together department directors, data analysts, and members of the governance committee (which included members of the public) to start to build a shared understanding of open data.
  2. Manage your time – Running an open data program is a time consuming effort. You aren’t going to cover everything in just your bootcamp, so set a length of time appropriate for your audience. In Lincoln, we ran a half-day workshop during the week and provided lunch. That provided flexibility to city staff and public stakeholders, alike, who wouldn’t be able to contribute more time during the workweek.
  3. Conduct a survey – Tailor topics to your audience and don’t try to cover all things open data at once. It’s difficult to cover more than 3-4 concepts in one workshop, so choose carefully. In Lincoln, we surveyed participants in advance to see what they would be interested in learning about and their level of knowledge of open data so we could craft the content appropriately.
  4. Use a guiding framework (and a facilitator) – A guiding document will help everyone follow along throughout the bootcamp and build shared understanding. In addition, you should designate a facilitator who will keep all participants focused on learning and the topic at hand. In Lincoln, I played this facilitator role and participants completed a version of the GovEx Open Data Canvas during different bootcamp activities.
  5. Plan for follow up – As I said, you won’t get everything done in a single event. Your bootcamp is meant as an introduction to open data, but introductions needs follow up to be useful. Be sure you build action steps for participants and follow up on them after a set period of time to ensure that you keep your momentum going. In Lincoln, we had each participant plan next steps that they would take to help push open data forward, knowing there is a scheduled check in 6 months from the bootcamp.

If you want to learn more about how GovEx can help facilitate these experiences or if you successfully run your own open data bootcamp, get in touch with us. Also, check out our Performance Alignment Primer, Open Data Getting Started Guide, and Open Data Canvas to get thinking about how you can get the ball rolling in your community.

Other Bootcamp Resources

Seattle Open Data Camp Information (at bottom)
NYU GovLab Canvas


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